John James

JOHN JAMES, 78, was born a slave to John Chapman, on a large

plantation in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana. John took the

name of his father, who was owned by John James. John and his

mother stayed with Mr. Chapman for six years after they were freed,

then John went to Missouri, where he worked for the M. K. & T.

Railroad for twenty years. He then came to Texas, and now lives at

315 S. Jennings Ave., in Fort Worth.

"I doesn't have so much mind for slavery days, 'cause I's too young

then, but I 'members when surrender come and some befo' dat. I 'members

my mammy lef' me in de nursery with all de other cullud babies when she

go work in de field. De old nurse, Jane, tooks care of us.

"Dat were de big place what Massa John have and dere 'bout fifty cullud

families on de place, so it am more'n a hunerd slaves what he own. I's

runnin' round, like kids am allus doin', first one place, den t'other,

watchin' everything. De big bell ring in de mornin' and you'd see all de

cullud folks comin' from dey cabins, gwineter de kitchen to breakfast.

Dat allus befo' daybreak, and dey have to eat by de light of de pine

torch. It am de pineknot torch. De meals am all cooked dere and dey eat

at long tables. De young'uns from six to ten year eats at de second

table and little'r den dat, in de nursery.

"I sho' 'members 'bout dat nursery feedin'. I never forgits how dat

cornmeal mush and milk am served in de big pans. Dey gives we uns de

wooden spoon and we'uns crowds round de pans like little pigs. I can see

it now. Us push and shove and de nurse walk here and dere, tryin' to

make us eat like humans. She have to cuff one of us once in a while. If

she don't, dem kids be in de pans with both feet. When dey done eatin',

dey faces am all smear with mush and milk.

"Massa allus feed plenty rations, only after war starts de old folks say

dey am short of dis and dat, 'cause dem sojers done took it for de army.

"After breakfast I'd see a crew go here and a crew go dere. Some of 'em

spin and weave and make clothes, and some tan de leather or do de

blacksmith work, and mos' of 'em go out in de field to work. Dey works

till dark and den come home and work round de quarters.

"Dem quarters was 'bout ten by fifteen feet, each one, with a hole for

de window dat am not dere and de floor am de ground, and de straw bunks

for to sleep on. In us cabin am mammy and us three chillen and our aunt.

My pappy done die befo' I 'member him. Some kind stomach mis'ry kilt


"One day Massa Chapman call all us to de front gallery. Us didn't know

what gwine to happen, 'cause it not ord'nary to git called from de work.

Him ring de bell and dat am sho' 'nough de liberty bell, 'cause him read

from de long paper and say, 'You is slaves no more. You is free, jus'

like I is, and have to 'pend on yourselves for de livin'. All what wants

to stay I'll pay money to work, and a share of de crop, iffen you don't

want money.' Mostest of dem stays, and some what goes gits into

troublement, 'cause den dere's trouble 'twixt de white folks and de

cullud folks. Some de niggers thinks they am bigger dan de white folks,

'cause dey free, and de Klu Klux, what us call white caps, puts dem in

de place dey 'longs.

"I gits chased by dem white caps once, jus' befo' us leave massa. Dat

am when I's 'bout thirteen year old. I's 'bout a mile off de place

without de pass and it am de rule them days, all cullud folks must have

de pass to show where dey 'longs and where dey gwine. I has no business

to be off de place without de pass. 'Twas a gal.. Sho', day am it. Us

walks down de road 'bout a mile and am settin' 'hind some bushes, off de

plantation. Us see dem white caps comin' down de road on hossback and us

ain't much scart, 'cause us think dey can't see us 'hind dem bushes. But

dat leader say, 'Whoa,' and dey could look down on us, 'cause dey on

hossback. Well, gosh for 'mighty! Dere us am and can't move den us so

scart. One dem white caps says, 'What you doin', nigger?' 'Jus' settin'

here,' I telt him. 'Yous better start runnin', 'cause us gwine try cotch

you,' dey says.

"Us two niggers am down dat road befo' dem words am outten he mouth. Dey

lets de hosses canter 'hind we'uns and us try to run faster. Fin'ly us

gits home and dat de last time I goes off without de pass.

"Mammy moves to Baton Rouge soon after dat and works as de housemaid. Us

stay dere two year and I gits some little jobs and den I goes to work

for de railroad in Sedalia, up in Missouri, and dere I works as section

hand for de Katy railroad for twenty year. Den I gits through and comes

to Texas.

"I works at anything till eight year ago and den I's no count for work

so I's livin' on de pension, what am $15.00 de month.

"I's never married. I jus' couldn't make de hitch. Dem what I wants,

don't want me. Dem what wants me, I don't want, so dere am never no


"No, I's never voted, 'cause I done heared 'bout de trouble dey has over

in Baton Rouge 'bout niggers votin'. I jus' don't like trouble, and for

de few years what am left, I's gwine keep de record of stayin' 'way from


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